Losing to the Carolina Panthers may be one of the best things to happen to the 2012 Atlanta Falcons. Up to that point the season was too easy, and Mike Smith's team were content to win without really needing to break a sweat. When the lowly Panthers beat them convincingly, and the cries of 'overrated' became raucous, the Falcons woke up. Turning last week's content into a statement game, Atlanta embarrassed the New York Giants, and dealt a huge blow to their playoff chances. Now it's Detroit's turn to see if they can take a shot at the NFC's best, and these are the things to watch on Sunday.
1. Limiting Calvin Johnson
The NFL's leading pass offense relies completely on the league's best receiver. It's not a case of stopping Johnson, because that looks near-impossible, but limiting his effectiveness. Detroit have only one win this season when CJ has less than 100 yards. There is a chasm between the league-leading receiver, and the Lions' second option -- tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Containing Victor Cruz last week was a huge reason for the Falcons' success. They got physical with him early, and while Johnson isn't a similar receiver, a similar approach could pay dividends.
2. Bait Matthew Stafford
Detroit's forth-year receiver is throwing for a lot of yards (over 4,200), but he's made a lot of mistakes this season. In 2011 what set Stafford apart from most NFL quarterbacks was his ability to run a vertical offense with a gunslinger's mentality, all while limiting his turnovers. This season Stafford hasn't found the end zone nearly enough, and he's thrown 15 interceptions this season.
The key for Atlanta is to sit on Stafford's routes, and goad him into forcing passes. Calvin Johnson will get his, but if the Falcons win the turnover battle they're in good stead.
3. Points kill
It's trite to say 'score more than your opponents', but the discernible weakness in the Detroit Lions is their inability to keep their opponents from scoring. Allowing 27.1 points per game, they rank 28th in points allowed -- and when paired with their -9 turnover differential, they shoot themselves in the foot.
Atlanta's key is to take care of the ball, and make smart decisions in the red zone. If they can do this, and are wiling to lean on their run game where needed, this game should be a fairly easy win.